In last year’s USHL Clark Cup playoffs, the Youngstown Phantoms earned a split against the top-seeded Green Bay Gamblers then came home and lost twice to end the season.
This weekend, the Phantoms are hoping their second chance against the Gamblers ends more successfully.
Thursday’s 4-2 victory in Green Bay tied the Phantoms-Gamblers series at one apiece. Green Bay visits the Covelli Centre tonight (7:15) and Sunday (4 p.m.) for Games 3 and 4 in the best-of-five series.
“It’s the same place we were last year,” Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen said. “Right now will show whether we as an organization have made that next step.
“We’ve got the home-ice advantage.”
The third period has been the Phantoms’ best throughout the season, and it showed once again in Game 2. Trailing 2-1, the Phantoms scored three goals in the final 18 minutes to stun the defending champions.
First-year forward JJ Piccinich evened the score and five-year veteran John Padulo put the Phantoms in front on the power play.
Sam Anas found the back of the net to put Youngstown up two with less than nine minutes remaining.
“There weren’t very many chances for either team 5-on-5,” Noreen said. “You feel when you get a power play how much more important it is.”
Cam Brown’s first-period goal that tied the game at 1-1 came with a man-advantage as the Phantoms went 2-for-3 on the power play.
Noreen said the Gamblers won the special teams battle in Game 1.
“Tonight, we did,” Noreen said after Game 2. “That’s the difference. That’s playoff hockey.”
Goaltender Sean Romeo turned away 23 of 25 shots to secure the win.
The Phantoms outshot the Gamblers 16-8 in the third period. Piccinch knotted it up on a rebound from a Markus McCrea shot that bounced out to him at the left circle. His slap shothit Green Bay goaltender Tony Kujava and deflected in.
“The goalie almost made the save,” Piccinich said. “I’m just glad it went in. It feels like I got a gorilla off of my back.”
Padulo put Youngstown on top on the man-advantage with a backdoor tap-in after a pass from Austin Cangelosi.
“We had a lot more time and guys used patience and found the open guys,” Padulo said of the power play. “I was fortunate to be on the back end of it.”